Beauty on the Bay

Designer Laura Covington transforms a rundown home on figure eight island into a dream residence for one Raleigh couple.

HEATHER AND JEFF NICHOLSON HAD BEEN LOOKING UP and down the North and South Carolina coast to find their perfect beach home. The couple, both of whom grew up in eastern North Carolina and met as college students at UNC Chapel Hill, even looked as far south as Florida but still came up short. Then one weekend their friends invited them to Figure Eight Island. “You can’t get on the island unless you know someone who lives there,” says Heather. “But once we were there we just knew that it was where we wanted to be.”

Homes on the exclusive island, however, are few and far between. There were just three on the market in early 2020, and it wasn’t until they toured the very last one that they finally had their aha moment. “Our realtor actually recommended we shouldn’t even look at it,” says Jeff. The circa-1990s home was known on the island as the “terra-cotta roof house,” with a yellow stucco facade  and Mediterranean-inspired architecture. Inside, dark, dated ornate finishes and architectural details, brass fixtures such as a gold  swan faucet, and wallpaper everywhere made most potential buyers turn away. But the Nicholsons could see the potential. While the home certainly stood out from the other traditional beach homes on the island, what it afforded the Nicholsons was the ideal  setting they’d been looking for. Situated on the sound side of the island, the home is positioned in such a way that every room features a sunset and water view. Plus, with a dock and water access for boating, the home—warts and all—was exactly what the couple wanted. “I asked Heather, ‘Can you see this working for us?’” says Jeff, “and she said, ‘Absolutely, we can make it work.’” Heather, who has a design degree, knew that with the right designer, the me could become the place of their dreams. “I think people underestimated what they could do with this home,” she says. “I think the home intimidated a lot of people because it was so different. But the bones were solid and those views were breathtaking.”

The couple, who are nearing retirement, dreamed of having a retreat for their grandchildren one day. “The hope is that as our two grown children eventually have families of their own, everyone will gather here together,” says Jeff. “We wanted and needed this  home to fit our large family comfortably so that hopefully this is a place our kids and grandkids want to keep coming to even after  we’re gone.”

The couple enlisted the help of designer Laura Covington to bring their comfortable and cozy multigenerational beach home to  fruition. “We felt immediately comfortable with Laura. I went to design school and had a vision for what I wanted,” explains Heather.  “Laura’s aesthetic matched what we were looking for.  We immediately hit it off and went to work right after closing.” With a goal of  being in the home by summer 2020—only a few months after buying the home—Covington immediately gutted the interiors and  removed the dark, dated finishes, replacing them with a softer color palette throughout.

The kitchen was remodeled in 2021, a year after the couple moved into the home. “Originally, the kitchen had a very Old World feel to it,” says Covington. “So when we selected new finishes for the space, we decided to take an unexpectedapproach with high-gloss cabinetry in Benjamin Moore White Dove and a fun patterned blue-and-white concrete tile backsplash.”

Each of the bathrooms was completely gutted and replaced with a coastal-inspired aesthetic via wallcoverings, new light fixtures,  gold hardware, and rattan and driftwood accents. “It’s a very unique situation because this home is not one of these cookie-cutter houses,” explains Covington.

“It has so much personality, so we decided to embrace it and make it really feel like a resort and a retreat.” The whole home is  centered on its sweeping sound views and sunsets, which shed stunning natural light throughout every living space and led to a  lighter, brighter color palette. Designed with two family rooms stacked on top of each other with large open windows that span the  length, the living spaces are the ultimate gathering areas, so comfort and functionality was key. “The downstairs living room is such an amazing space,” says Covington. “The previous homeowners had one seating zone in that huge room and it felt so off in terms  of scale and usability. It felt too big, too empty, underused, and cavernous.” Covington redesigned the furniture layout so that the  large space not only affords multiple seating arrangements that promote conversation and comfortable lounging, but also makes  the room feel cozier. In the upstairs family room she took a similar but even more casual approach, since it would be used as the teen hangout where sandy and sunscreen-covered kids would lounge after a day on the beach.

The notion that nothing could be too precious and everything needed to be comfortable, casual, and withstand wear and tear from the beach was also applied to the game room, owner’s suite, and guest rooms. Performance fabrics and durable materials like  wicker and rattan were used throughout the home to withstand scratches and wet bathing suits. In the end, the transformation from a dark, ornate home with traditional architectural details to an airy, open, relaxing beach retreat feels like a Tuscan farmhouse was turned into a private resort on the marsh and sound. Jeff acknowledges the grand renovation, saying, “Laura was able to take a  structure that afforded this formal elegance and grandiose posture and turn it into this simple, comfortable, casual home where you really feel like once you’re there you can unwind, kick your shoes off, kick back, and relax.”